The celebrated Danish photographer Bent Rej sadly passed away in 2016, but thankfully, his legacy is preserved in an extensive oeuvre. His work, as our ‘Bent Rej Retrospective’ series has reflected, is defined by its use of bold colour contrast and, in many areas, prominent icons. In the latter part of his career, Rej gave unique colour to major advertising campaigns, chiefly those for Fiat and Carlsberg, but his rise to prominence was rooted in 1960s rock and roll.
In a recent interview, Ny, one of Bent Rej’s two daughters, told Far Out how her father broke into a career in photography from the unlikely setting of rural Denmark. “He grew up in a farm area, a remote area [of Denmark], and all of his family were selling fruit and vegetables,” she said. “So it was conceived that he would do the same – like having a store in the countryside. But for some reason, he didn’t want to do that. So he started training with a photographer in the area, mainly taking photos of families and school photos. He started there, and then he went to Copenhagen to start work at a newspaper. I don’t know why, but I think he wanted to break out.”
In his early 20s, Rej found work as a photojournalist at the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet. As a young and stylish man, Rej was regularly assigned to cover British rock acts when they visited Copenhagen on tour. Some of his earliest work included paparazzi shots of The Beatles, taken while they visited Copenhagen on tour in 1964. However, the most pivotal moment in Rej’s career came in 1965, when, aged 25, he was invited to document the German leg of The Rolling Stones’ 1965 tour of Europe.
While on the road, Rej befriended the Stones, especially the early band leader Brian Jones. Ny explained that her father fit in with the rock stars because he “was very fashionable at the time. He was bold, and if he wanted something, he would get it. I think he was also [roughly] the same age as [The Rolling Stones], and they were very reachable at the time. So, I think he was just the at the right time, at the right place”.
Rej’s close association with the Rolling Stones proved to be particularly fruitful, opening the door to a host of contemporary icons, including Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Beatles, Tom Jones, The Kinks, Frank Zappa and Bob Dylan. Rej met some of these famous faces in London, while others he captured during their tour visits to Copenhagen.
In May 1966, Rej was lucky enough to join Bob Dylan during the folk-rock star’s world tour. At this point, Dylan was at the height of his powers, having released his popular albums Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited in 1965. Set lists at the time also benefitted from material found on Blonde on Blonde, Dylan’s masterpiece that arrived just a month later.
In the mid-1960s, Dylan underwent a stylistic overhaul. This was most patently defined by Bringing It All Back Home, which first introduced Dylan’s new electric guitar sound. The new folk-rock style arrived with more daring lyrical compositions influenced by Beat literature and famously alienated a contingent of folk pedants at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
During this momentous period in Dylan’s career, he began to tap into the contemporary fashion trends of the rock and roll elite. He grew out his curly locks, dressed in sharp, quirky suits, and ensured his eyes were always protected from the sun – even indoors.
Rej’s fantastic collection of Bob Dylan shots, seen below, documents Dylan’s European adventure as he hits the stage and familiarises himself with Copenhagen. Ostensibly, Rej favoured black and white film when photographing Dylan. The medium brought a favourable definition to the Nobel Prize winner’s jet-black Wayfairers and patterned attire.